How many people did Stalin kill? If you ask most educated people they struggle with a credible response. The answer is hotly debated, but we can ballpark it between 20 and 60 million people. Stalin quite possibly killed more people than the entire world did in World War II. Think about that for a minute. Okay, now put your latte down and think about it again. Pretty horrific isn’t it? Now add in the atrocities of Hitler, Mussolini, the Japanese Imperial Army, etc. Now ask yourself this question: what would have all of those people invented, innovated, created, cured, built, loved, painted, healed (the list goes on) had they not been executed, murdered, or simply dehumanized and dumped off into some abhorred concentration camp?
Let us come together and agree on what the lesson of the 20th Century SHOULD be. You cannot let the Beast go unchecked. Folks, it really is that simple.
When I joined the Army in the winter of 2005 I was but a young man searching for my place in the world. The country was deeply divided over what the right course of action should be in the Middle East following the deadliest attack on American soil. I joined because I wanted to gain leadership skills, experience comradery, and to serve this country that I love so much. As the years passed I found out there was more to being a soldier than what I just listed. At every major training event and deployment my belief in America grew. Each event that reinforced my beliefs can be simply enumerated:
- The oath of office a military officer must take. This oath is performed on the Constitution of the United States of America; a document that enshrines the duty of service to your country. The Constitution protects the individual, the family, and states from federal tyranny. It is this document you swear to protect from any leader (civilian or military) who stands in the way of the justice it is meant to provide.
- My compatriots, whom I served beside with loyalty and righteousness in my heart, a feeling we all shared, came from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds (don’t let anyone tell you only poor people fight wars in our all-volunteer force; see Tim Kane’s book Bleeding Talent)) and we all came together to fight with one another and defend something greater than ourselves. Each person, though different in the way they voted, prayed, and so on, had one uniting belief in common: “no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave.”—These remarks from President George W. Bush in his Second Inaugural Address best express the idea we held and fought to protect. See, we were standing up to the Beast, a Beast that was the antithesis to this belief.
- My deployments. Before I go into more detail on this for the remainder of the post, I must caution, the story you are about to be told is not one for the faint of heart. You should know that this documented experience was not pretty and as you will learn once again, tyrants will continuously do as the despots before them. Saddam Hussein was no exception. The evidence is overwhelming; he needed to be removed from power.
As I arrived at Camp Taji, Iraq in the fall of 2009 I sensed that I was in a mildly dangerous environment. I placed this feeling of insecurity somewhere above walking around aimlessly in the middle of New Delhi or Mexico City at midnight. Needless to say, the area north of Baghdad had come a long way since the 2006-07 Surge. Soldiers would comment to me on a daily basis as they greeted me (the tenderfoot second lieutenant), “Sir, you have no idea how much better this place is now than it was two years ago.” These soldiers experienced the Surge, and felt the pain and agony of losing friends; they had sacrificed so much to take and secure key terrain. I felt guilty that I wasn’t with them during these fierce battles. Then I received my assignment: my job was to lead a 20 man platoon which was tasked with protecting numerous State Department personnel who were conducting some sort of humanitarian, political, infrastructural mission (it changed daily). My men and I saw a lot of Baghdad and the environs north of the city. There are a few instances that come to mind that showed me why the previous regime needed to be removed from power.
In the middle of January 2010 my men and I visited a chemical weapons facility north of Camp Taji (roughly 40 miles north of downtown Baghdad). It had been destroyed in the late 1990’s during the Clinton Administration and for good reason. Saddam Hussein was developing chemical weapons. These attacks and others like it are why he moved many of his weapons and research facilities underground (similar to the Iranian government today). In any case, the facility illustrates two important facts: 1) Hussein was developing weapons in the past and continued to do so up until 2003; 2) people never care to admit that we had been at war with Iraq before 2003; President Bush aimed to end this conflict once and for all.
Another example that comes to mind was a visit to an agricultural facility connected to a prison near Baghdad International Airport. In the basement of this location one could see signs of the oppressive and sadistic nature of the previous regime. Walls were stained with remnants of torture. Smoke stained rooms left evidence of human misery, misery that most likely ended in the execution of dissidents being burned alive, or dead. If ever there were a place with evidence of what totalitarianism is all about, this place was it.
Finally, Saddam’s abodes were a blatant example of what royals and autocrats take and keep from the masses. Palaces with writings that preached the death of the West, America, and America’s allies were commonplace and were sprinkled all over Baghdad and the northern riverfront vacation properties between the Tigris and Euphrates. This is what centralized control breeds; this is not what the 21st Century is supposed to exude in the wake of the shipwreck of Communism, but it was all too often seen throughout the country. ,Moreover, it was interesting to juxtapose the mass graves of people next to the mass graves of Soviet war machines: rusted tanks, helicopters, personnel carriers, etc. How one system wasted and rotted yet continued to persist for so long was beyond me, it was sad. No wonder so many in the previous administration aimed to reverse such a trend.
Both of my tours to Iraq showed and demonstrated to me that Saddam Hussein was unfit to lead even the smallest of communities. His complete disregard for his own people, his neighbors, and the global community should sicken anyone of any political background. He was reckless, ruthless, and cared only for himself and the power he held over the country of Iraq.
“We have gone forth from our shores repeatedly over the last hundred years…and put wonderful young men and women at risk, many of whom have lost their lives, and we have asked for nothing except enough ground to bury them in” — Colin Powell in a 2003 address to the World Economic Forum
I would add to this quote, “and enough land to protect our allies from those who would do them, and the US, harm.” This is critical, staying and defending the key terrain America and our allies have sacrificed to secure. As we left Iraq in 2011 many of us prognosticated that the country would struggle to maintain its security posture. The Iraqi Army and Police Force were not ready to take on the task of securing the one state solution. Today we see the spread of ISIL. The Beast has returned. Are we really going to sit back and allow the mistakes of the 20th Century to happen again? Are we really going to allow the Beast to go unchecked? May our children and our children’s children forgive us if we turn our back once again.
Devin Guilliams is a former infantry officer in the United States Army and is currently an MIA candidate at the School for International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. After completing four years of active duty service, and obtaining the rank of Captain, Devin left the service to pursue other career ambitions. The views expressed above are his and his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Army, The Department of Defense, or Columbia University.